Musicians union plans to leaflet orchestra’s Broward Center concert

By David Fleshler

Sebrina Maria Alfonso conducting the South Florida Symphony. Musicians Local 655 plans to distribute leaflets outside the Broward Center Friday night to protest what they term nonpayment of services by the orchestra.

Musicians’ union members plan to distribute leaflets at a concert Friday night in Fort Lauderdale of the South Florida Symphony to protest the struggling orchestra’s failure to pay musicians for previous concerts.

Jeffrey Apana, secretary-treasurer of Local 655 of the American Federation of Musicians, said the orchestra still owes musicians about $25,000 in wages and travel costs for concerts last season. He said the orchestra recently made payments to musicians of $200.

“For many musicians that’s a drop in the bucket when they’re owed $1,000,” he said. “We’ve heard from some people who have been paid in full. We’ve heard from many more who are owed in the $200 to $800 to $1,000 range.”

The orchestra made a well-received debut last year but cancelled the rest of its season amid accusations by musicians of unpaid bills. It has since held a series of chamber concerts to raise money, and this season has scheduled a four-program series of symphony concerts at venues in the Florida Keys, Miami-Dade County, Broward County and Palm Beach County.

Sebrina Maria Alfonso, the orchestra’s conductor, said in an interview Thursday that the orchestra has worked hard to pay off debts to musicians. Of the $77,000 or so originally owed, she said the orchestra has paid off all but $27,000 and is continuing to raise money to pay off the rest.

“It’s an unfortunate situation and I feel horrible,” she said. “It’s not something that I take lightly.”

She said orchestra officials have asked to meet with the union’s leaders but were rebuffed. And she said she couldn’t understand why the union was targeting the orchestra when it was trying to pay its debt and represents a source of employment for musicians in difficult economic times.

“With all these orchestras crumbling, it’s a shame that musicians are trying to bring down our organization,” she said. “This orchestra, as it begins to be a regional-based orchestra, is going to provide jobs.”

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9 Responses to “Musicians union plans to leaflet orchestra’s Broward Center concert”

  1. Posted Dec 02, 2011 at 12:13 am by Bill Thomas

    Alfonso said – She provides jobs. To whom?

    To herself. According to someone who worked in her office, she was paid for last year’s concert(s). But many of the musicians were not.

    Do the musicians playing in this set of concerts aware of how previous musicians were treated?

    I think it is a good thing that people are made aware of the situation of non-payment.

    Complete payments to the previous musicians should be paid before the “maestra” or any new musicians get paid.

  2. Posted Dec 02, 2011 at 6:57 am by Sebrina Alfonso

    “Mr. Thomas”
    On behalf of the board, staff, volunteers and musicians of the SFSO, we fully understand and embrace our obligation to our musicians.
    Side by side, the musicians, board, staff and volunteers have worked diligently and intentionally to meet our obligation.
    I invite you to meet with our leadership as not all information here is correct and perhaps in the end you can be a part of the solution. The orchestra is only as strong as the community that supports them. We welcome you to join us side by side.
    Sincerely,
    Sebrina Alfonso, music director

  3. Posted Dec 02, 2011 at 1:05 pm by Rosanne Potter

    I attended the concert in Key West last night. It was a delight — Sebrina took on a difficult program with many musicians who are not her regulars (scheduling difficulties prevented her getting them for this concert but they are signed up for January and March’s concerts), and helped them to do a splendid job on the Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on a theme by Thomas Tallis.

    My husband and I were privileged to attend a dress rehearsal, so we were able to see how she took them from an overly romantic reading of this work to a cleaner, more classical sound. The Mendelssohn 4th Symphony was splendid, rousing and wonderful in the way it moved from major to minor moods. I could go on about Zuill, one of the musicians who has performed with Sebrina for years, in many places — he knows how she treats musicians!

    Sebrina has worked for over 12 years, bringing consistently high quality symphonic music to Key West, a community too small to have a symphony. Unfortunately, when, due to hard times, Sebrina was unable to meet all of the orchestra’s obligations to its musicians, the word went out that the orchestra was failing and that word created the fact. Sponsors deserted, ads were pulled, all the support systems that an orchestra needs were pulled out and the rest of last year’s season had to be cancelled. Despite this, Sebrina has come back from deep debt to only owing $27,000 to the musicians — she takes her debts to them very seriously and has been systematically both paying them down and creating income to pay the current musicians who are creating this season.

    Sebrina is a woman who loves music, who, I firmly believe, could have had an international career as a guest conductor, but who stayed in her home town to create something wonderful for the children of our community. To see musicians working so hard, in these very hard financial times, to keep this music alive is inspiring to me; I hope she is allowed to continue doing what she does so well, designing programs, finding the best musicians, and leading them to create great sounds.

    I hope those who are working so hard to destroy (what Sebrina is working even harder to create) would come to a concert, watch and hear what she does.

  4. Posted Dec 02, 2011 at 11:22 pm by Theatre Guy

    The musicians are behaving stupidly; the SFS has been paying off musicians as funds become available. These protesting morons and the mouth-breathers at the union need to clue in to the fact that NO ONE donates money to pay off debt; the just don’t do it. New project? Sure. Last year’s debt? Not interested.

    By continually smearing the name of the orchestra, they undermine the orchestra’s ability to raise money and sell tickets. If the orchestra can’t sell tickets, it can’t make any money to pay off the musicians back pay.

    Get a clue, morons. The fact is that they are TRYING to pay you; stop screwing it up. And I’m speaking to YOU, Mr. Thomas.

  5. Posted Dec 03, 2011 at 9:25 am by Barry White

    As an OLD board member and patron from the beginning of the Symphony in Key West, I can tell you that this Jeffrey Apana has been trying to bring this symphony down before it was even in the South Florida arena. He had tried years ago to get the musicians to turn against the symphony with nasty emails about the symphony when it was ONLY in Key West doing marvelous concerts, children’s concert programs and a huge pride Key West community. There is no rhyme nor reason to his obvious jealousy to this fantastic orchestra.
    Congratulations to the board of the symphony for committing yourselves to this great organization.
    Congrats to Sebrina and Jacqueline. We love you and welcome you back with open arms.

  6. Posted Dec 03, 2011 at 7:39 pm by Still not Paid

    I applaud the union for continuing to call attention to Alfonso and Lorber’s lengthy delinquency. The record should be made clear – the money they owe goes back not to last year, but to two seasons ago- in fact, for concerts performed in January 2010. Many musicians at that time not only went without their salary after performing, but were never even paid for flights and travel expenses the organization promised to reimburse. And even worse, when musicians tried to track down their funds in the immediate aftermath, their calls and emails went unreturned, and the management literally disappeared into the night.
    I don’t think there is any effort to bring the symphony down, as is being suggested in some of the comments I’ve read. Musicians want the organization to pay their bill in FULL, which should have been done BEFORE this pair was allowed to continue doing business in South Florida. Stringing musicians out like this for almost two years is not only bad business, it’s unconscionable. These two ladies deserve every bit of criticism they reap.

  7. Posted Dec 03, 2011 at 11:25 pm by Kenneth Martinson

    The leafletters are not morons. They are principled people. The principle being: when you hire people, you must pay them.

    YES- last year, the executive director Jacqueline Lorber, and Sebrina Alfonso paid themselves in full several thousands of dollars, while the poor musicians were put on hold for months. I fear that these musicians will not be paid either.

    Nobody wants an “imported” orchestra. Everyone needs to know there is tons of talent that lives here in South Florida, but maestra Alfonso refused to use it, and why? Because she wants her orchestra to be scattered geographically, and she doesn’t want them to unionize or have rights. And she is taking advantage of the fact that musicians will come down here and perform for money that amounts to be a “paid vacation”, at the expense of local musicians, who suffer enough with having to compete with Cleveland Orchestra, and the stipend-paid New World Symphony.

  8. Posted Dec 04, 2011 at 2:25 am by Monty Bloom

    I think it’s a crime that some of the commenters are vilifying the musicians from the local union, who work tirelessly to make sure that ordinary rank and file orchestral musicians are treated fairly by those that employ us.

    This orchestra plain and simple pays musicians far below what is considered acceptable wages for an orchestral musician in the area, and even worse, does not pay them on time.

    I understand that “playing music” is something that many people find enjoyment in and consider a hobby, but for those that play in a professional orchestra, it is NOT a hobby, it is NOT considered fun, and in fact, many of us HATE playing in orchestra. It is work. Why is there such a horrible misunderstanding that we enjoy playing in orchestra? Does the guy making your coffee at starbucks enjoy that? Get a clue!

    Sebrina Alfonso and the SFSO deserves to be publicly called out for ripping off musicians and not paying them, and paying them below scale wages. There should be a public outrage against their exploitation of workers. It’s disgusting that so many people voice support for the evildoer that is Sebrina Alfonso.

    Anyone attending concerts for this orchestra is doing a disservice to the music scene.

  9. Posted Dec 04, 2011 at 10:48 am by Andrew Proctor

    The South Florida Symphony should have remained the Key West Symphony where their model worked. It was understandable that the Key West Symphony had to import players to provide music for the Parrot Nation and it was also understandable that the salaries offered to the musicians were below the standard Miami/Broward and Palm Beach rates because of Key West’s distance from the rest of Florida. But, taking the show on the road is a bad idea and importing musicians from around the country to work in our community for 3/4 of the going rate is not only unfair but insulting. There are several orchestras that perform to well established and growing audiences with world class soloists and world renowned conductors throughout the tri-county area and they all pay their musicians properly and in a timely manner. The Key West Symphony spends it’s money unnecessarily on travel expenses, rental cars, instrument rental, hotels, etc. instead of providing a fair wage to musicians.

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